In need of advice: laptop vs ipad for tabletop gaming!


First Post
So I'm a DM for a 4th edition D&D group and I'm considering either buying a ipad or a laptop to assist my DM'ng during games. I have a budget of $600-ish (USD) for this.

The ipad, from what I've read seems very handy and there seem to be many apps that could be helpful. Unfortunately it's limited in the programs I can use (can you even use Word on it?, or something that will act as it?) and the storage space seems very limited. Lastly, I'm not sure if the Character Builder and other 4th ed tools run on an ipad? The other nice thing would be all the cool other benefits of owning an ipad, but that's not the main reason I'd be getting it.

A laptop would would run all the apps I already run at home, but its larger and much clumsier than an ipad would be. Of course, $600-ish wouldn't get you much of a laptop at all, so it may not run much of anything beyond word and few other basic programs (I can't imagine it would run an Adobe suite of products very well). The last thing with a laptop would be that the wife and I would be able to do some co-op PC games on it (she's a big-time gamer), but at $600-ish, again, its not likely to be able to run much game wise either.

Some facts about my group and I that my be useful:

• I have 7 players (plus me), we all use the online Character Builder from WotC.

• I run a Forgotten Realms campaign, but its highly customized to our group (its sent in 1379 DR and events from previous campaigns affect the current campaign, so it diverges somewhat from canon because of it).

• The bulk of my work that I would need on game-days is done in Microsoft Word (some is done in Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, etc but not stuff I would need on game-day).

• I currently run a low-tech game, as far as DM's aids are concerned. We whiteboards for notes, GameMastery's initiative counters, and TactTiles for the maps (love TactTiles, those things rock).

• I am a professional graphic designer and do my own graphics for all my work. I make maps, illustrate NPCs, make props, etc. I'm very savvy on the standard desktop tech-end of things, but I don't own a cellphone (on purpose) nor any kind of laptop or standard pad.

• I own a Kindle Fire, which I use as a reference library. I keep many of the rulebooks I have at home as PDFs on there, but due to its limited storage I can't have many on there (ie: the entire run of all FR books, which I own, like I said, I've been DM'ing since 81, I'm old :p).

Well guys, any assistance, advice, or general comments are welcome. Thanks!!


P.S.: To the other old timers that know me on ENWorld, yeah... I hadn't posted in forever. Sorry... I've been thinking of publishing some of my material and I didn't want the temptation to post it here :p

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Registered Ninja
I don't have an Ipad, so it's hard for me to compare the two, but I will say that I'm happy using a laptop for games. I mostly use it for Word and looking things up on the Internet, and sometimes Google Earth (my game's set in the real world).

Also $600 can get you a lot more than it used to be able to. I got my current laptop for less than $500, and it runs Creative Sweet well enough for me (though I'm not a professional, so my needs might be less demanding).


I would go with a tablet, although getting one only for gaming is a bit overkill, especially when you already have a Fire.
And you won't be able to run D&D tools on an iPad (or Android tablet). There are some D&D apps, but the higher quality ones have to be bought. Word of course also wouldn't run but there are similar apps for text editing.
One exception would be the Windows 8 tablets. They would theoretically be able to run all tools a laptop could run, performance permitting. But I haven't tested one to be sure about their capabilities. I certainly would not buy an iPad anyway. You pay a lot for just the name. Look at some Android tablets where you can get equal performance for $100 less. Or the mentioned Windows 8 tablets.

A laptop on the other hand is much more versatile, runs normal windows programs and has no problems with storage, connections (usb sticks etc.) and performance. Its just more bulky, noisy and harder to show around for maps.


First Post
I have tried most of the table-top apps on the kindle, of the few they have. They tend to be very low quality, unfortunately. I had heard from friends (in other gaming groups) that the ipad has a much larger selection of apps for table-top gaming (of course, I can't confirm this myself). Android apps, again from what they had told me, are also much more limited in selection. Again, not making statements of fact, just what I had heard... I figure you guys would have a broader knowledge base.


I currently have both an iPad2 and a laptop.

As a player you could definitely just use an iPad and have everything you need. I play Pathfinder so I haven't gotten any of the apps for 4E, but I believe there are some decent ones available.

For running a game I think you would be much better off with a laptop instead of the iPad. Now their might be an app that makes it easy to run a 4E game from an iPad but I'm not sure about that.

Outside gaming I think you will get more out of a laptop as well.


I use a laptop with a second screen.
This allows me to show Maps, illustrations, and the like to the party without having to print them out.
When we need to place characters on the map, I use MapTools to do so.
On my side, I use a tiddlywiki for the campaign, and game-specific character and campaign tools that run on Windows and Mac (not the iPad...yet). Since the system is HarnMaster, I doubt these tools would help you, sorry.

I'm in a game where the GM uses his iPad (32 Gbit - I believe) as a reference tool. He doesn't use it for maps or to show characters. This game is in Pathfinder, but all his tools are on the internet. When he doesn't have internet access, he goes back to paper. He uses his iPad to text us computer-users notes and refer to the rules and his own write-ups with it. In that game, we have a player who attends the game via skype. Clunky, but it works.


When DMing, I was using my iPad for awhile, then switched to my laptop (MacBook Pro), and recently I've decided to go back to the iPad. I switched back primarily because I have a lot of reference material in PDF format (specifically for Pathfinder or D&D Next) and I find it easier and more "natural" to read PDFs on the iPad rather than my laptop. Some other thoughts:

* My iPad is a 32GB version and I've found that's plenty for what I'm using it for (besides my gaming material, I've got a variety of other applications, games, etc.)
* There are various word processor/text editor programs available for the iPad. I use Pages, which is Apple's version of Word. Pages will open Word docs, though I'm sure there's some formatting and the like that don't translate directly.
* As others have mentioned, you can get a pretty good laptop PC for $600 if you decide to go that route. Though probably wouldn't work terribly well for games, depending on what you're playing.
* I don't know if there are more gaming apps for iOS than Android; I'd suspect the numbers would be close, but I can't say for sure.
* The apps I use for GMing include: DM Tools (initiative tracker), PFRPG rd (offline Pathfinder SRD reference), Notebooks (organizational tool; kind of like OneNote), Numbers (Apple's spreadsheet; use it for building encounters, tracking XP, etc.), GoodReader (reading/storing PDF, maps, etc; if you get an iPad and reference a lot of PDFs, GoodReader is a must-have), Chrome. I'm developing my own utilities for those functions I haven't found an existing tool for (calendar/almanac app, hex mapper, etc.).
* I like the handiness of being able to bring up a graphic and just pick up the iPad and show it to the players (can't easily do that with my laptop).
* I prefer the mobility of the iPad over the laptop, though I do use a Bluetooth keyboard for things that require a great deal of typing (ex: notetaking in the Notebooks app).
* The DDI tools won't work on the iPad since they require Silverlight. I'm not certain that Silverlight works on Android, either (Mac and Windows, yes). There are utilities for both mobile platforms that allow you to remote connect to a desktop, so you could use that on a tablet to connect to a PC or Mac to run the tools there (cheating, but it works :))

Hope that helps!


First Post
Hey guys, I appreciate the knowledge and advice, I'm still mulling it over.
To answer a question, Yes, I have wifi internet access both at home and where we game, so that's not an issue. Thanks again!


I haven't used either for gaming, but I have gamed with both players and DMs who have used both, and my preference from the other side of the (computer) screen is for the iPad every time.

When I've encountered it, I have found laptop use to be extremely distracting. This was less true when done by a player than by the DM, but even in the hands of the DM it seemed to distract from the game. (Additionally, it created a significant physical barrier between people at the table. Of course, since most DMs use a screen anyway, that's not a new issue, but when done by players it was actively annoying.)

The iPad, by contrast, did nothing but speed the game up. Probably because it was that much smaller, and especially because it simply lay flat when not in use. In fact, my only issue with the iPad was that we never quite got as far as moving to electronic character sheets and going paperless.


Staff member
I have an iPod Touch, an iPad2, an iMac, and a MacBook Pro. I have used all for gaming.

When we're playing 4Ed, the iMac usually gets used by whomever has forgotten their character, so they can access DDI.

I have found that the iPod & iPad actually do enough for me to use for gaming in general, though. I don't have any special apps: I do my PCs, NPCs and even adventure & campaign write ups in the Notes app that comes with them. Sometimes, I'll access an online resource, like a SRD.

Were I shopping for a device specifically for gaming, though, I'd probably still buy a laptop. Some of what I do would be easier or neater or more flexible on a laptop, no question. For instance, I can type a hell of a lot faster on a standard keyboard than I can on a virtual one.* And then, of course, there are all the things laptops can do that tablets can't quite.

But the iPod & iPad do enough that I really haven't needed a fully functioning computer, for reasons stated above. The iPod, partly despite its small size, partly because of it, ate away at my use of the laptop at the table. In fact, dating back to my use of a Palm Tungsten PDA, I haven't had a paper character sheet, and most of my campaign design notes were taken on that device. And honestly, I haven't used the laptop for gaming at all since I got the iPad.

* I can still type faster on a virtual keyboard than most people can, using a touch-typing technique, but without the proper physical feedback**, my fingers drift ever so slightly, leading to fun with AutoCorrect...

** why did Apple programmers waste lines of code putting virtual guide blisters on the virtual keyboard's "F" and "J" keys?
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Hand of Evil

I use my iPAD for most of my gaming, figure I will update to an iPAD3 soon but have been testing some of the tablets at work and got to say, there are some good ones out there and Window 8 is not that bad (once I found the minus key). So, why will I go iPAD again, mostly because I already invested $ in apps and learned how to use them in my games.

Note on Tablets running Windows 8 - expansion slots are the key and a docking station.

Note on Apps - tons of them out there, look around and see what other people are using and read "current reviews" but mostly simple is better for interface and what it provides, some look cool but just a pain to use.

My advice; get the most for what you are willing to spend but get something you know you will use.
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My advice; get the most for what you are willing to spend but get something you know you will use.

That's good advice. The people in my groups who have used laptops/iPads/iPhones got the devices in question for other reasons, and merely applied them to gaming. As far as I know, nobody in my game group bought one specifically for gaming use.

Remus Lupin

I've been using Hero Lab at the table on my laptop for a long time and I've found it very useful. In particular, having the program do a great deal of the math behind the scenes has been a big advantage at the table and makes things go a bit more quickly.

The other big advantage at the table, particularly playing Pathfinder, has been a) the easy online access to the PFSRD, meaning I don't necessarily need the massive tome that is that Core Rulebook, and b) PDFs of any resources that I might need.

Now, it turns out that, as they've finally come out with a version of Hero Lab for the iPad, it's actually much easier for me to use my iPad at the table at this point than my laptop, and I'll probably end up phasing out my laptop for that purpose once they've got most of the bugs worked out of HL, and it's got full functionality at the table. Although, I agree that for DMing the laptop may continue to be better. It remains to be seen, but I'm looking forward to the point when I can rely exclusively on the tablet at the table.

Wednesday Boy

The Nerd WhoFell to Earth
Three players in my 4E group use tablets for their character sheets--two on Android devices and myself on an iPad. The Android users love their virtual character sheet apps ("K-Sheets") but the layout for the one that I have ("i4e") is not appealing and I end up using printed character sheets instead.

I find that Evernote and Google Drive are great for easy access to gaming notes and documents and sharing between your tablet and your computer. (And for sharing with others.)


As a player, I've switched to using a spreadsheet. My Ipad1 works WAY NICER than my laptop for this.

It's lighter than a laptop.
Numbers (an Apple app) runs my spreadsheet
I've got for the rules, or PDFs

The laptop worked functionally, but took up more space. Picking up the ipad is as casual as picking up a rulebook. Using my iPad was like finally achieving the goal of using a computer to play D&D.

On the whole topic of what $600 gets you, I think there's some misconception.
Using a laptop to play D&D is NOT high-end performance computing. It's about as lightweight as your gramma sending email or doing her taxes. A low-end computer will suffice because you aren't using it for super duper graphics (showing off a JPG of a dragon is NOT strenuous for a computer, rendering a first person shooter at 60+ frames per second is).

So, you can solve this problem with a cheap laptop for $300. But the iPad (or other tablet) will be lighter and more inviting to use.

The iPad has Pages and Numbers for it's Word and Excel equivalents. And of course the web browser, which won't run everything on the net, but most general content sites will work (like

You also could do Remote Desktop to a real PC. Which means your iPad acts as the screen, mouse and keyboard of a real computer somewhere in your house. Thus, you get the benefit of a lighter weight, and the availability of that one special app that you can only run in Windows.


I have a lot of roleplaying apps on my iPad, but I'm not actually using it during my sessions. But I can assure you that there are tons of apps out for handling and sorting game notes, for tracking initiative, for electronic character sheets, to roll virtual dice, and to read PDF files of rulebooks or adventures. While DDI isn't working directly, there are Compendium apps with which you have full access to the DDI Compendium to look up everything 4E. I'm using Evernote to write my own adventures, and an index card app for notes on NPCs.

Overall I'd say there are a LOT of roleplaying apps available, and they are usually free or dirt cheap compared to PC software.

Radiating Gnome

In my experience, the iPad is a better, more natural experience at the game table. It feels a lot more like a print resource -- I can lay it down, flip through it, etc. I don't DM with a screen, and have gotten used to not having anything between myself and the players (I'm also short). The laptop screen feels a lot like a DM screen. I like that effect even less when the players have laptops up as well. iPads and other tablets don't have those problems.

The downside of the iPad is the lack of direct access to the Wizards tools -- character builder, especially. You can access your characters through a handful of character sheet apps -- compendium apps, etc. But to actually build characters you're going to need a computer -- but you don't need that at the table.

There are a ton of other apps -- I'm a huge fan of Evernote, for example, for all kinds of notes, etc.

Our group has switched to the playtest, and the thing I miss most about 4th edition is the digital tools. I know it's not reasonable to expect that there would be digital tools while the ruleset is in such flux, but it's a drag. Especially now that we have become so used to/dependent upon those tools.

Bottom line, I'd recommend the iPad because it will make the biggest change to the way you access and consume content -- but just don't expect that you'll be able to use just -- you're still going to need your desktop for character building, etc.


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